Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Students will spend break studying war

Between the winter and spring quarters at the University of Denver, March 17–21, some students are going to get a lesson in war.

They won’t be gearing up for battle, but they will be arming themselves with knowledge on how war is portrayed in American movies and books.

Several students will be taking 20th Century American Fiction: War Stories — American Literature and Conflict. The course examines how authors and filmmakers have imagined and presented war and how those ideas are reflected in contemporary social and political questions.

Part of DU’s Interterm program that offers classes for students between quarters, the course will feature books and films on the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.

The instructor, English Professor Clark Davis, says he plans to explore a number of questions with students:

– How does American culture make stories out of the chaotic experience of war?
– What do these stories tell us about our need to bring order and meaning to complex and violent events?
– What values are expressed by the way these stories are shaped?
– How then might we become better readers of the war stories our culture is offering us?

“My guiding assumption is that we all need stories to structure our lives, and that war is inherently destabilizing,” Davis says. “So the way we shape, tell and retell stories about why people fight and what they fight for — what war means — can tell us a great deal about how we see ourselves.”

Davis says he hopes students become better, more sophisticated readers of media reports about current American conflicts.

“I’m not interested in telling students what I think about these wars or how to apply what they learn from studying earlier examples of American war narrative. I am interested in giving them tools to understand better how their culture is generating stories and how those stories carry with them particular sets of values and ideas,” Davis says.

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